From customer to director: Dail led DLA through critical transformations

By Jacob Boyer DLA Public Affairs

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When Army Lt. Gen. Robert Dail was announced as the Defense Logistics Agency’s director in 2006, he was surprised. He was serving as the deputy commander of U.S. Transportation Command, a position every flag and general officer before him had retired from. He thought that would be his last assignment, but he was surprised for another reason.

“I was even more surprised, because I had never had an assignment at DLA. I can tell you that throughout my 33 years as an Army officer, I appreciated the work that DLA provided for troops in the field. Whether it was overseas or home at places like Fort Stewart, Fort Bragg and Fort Benning, DLA capabilities were always critical to the readiness of Army equipment,” said Dail, who retired from the Army in 2008. “I came to the agency never having served there, but with a tremendous appreciation from the demand side.”

Dail, who is being inducted into the DLA Hall of Fame July 14, came to the agency at a critical time. The U.S. military was involved in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and Defense Department leaders wanted the agency to use its recently-completed Enterprise Business System to better support warfighters in those two countries.

“DLA was a tremendously powerful organization that had focused a lot of its management, structure and expertise on creating and fielding … the Enterprise Business System. There was a lot of effort by the organization to look at its internal processes – how it operated and conducted business – and how it might need to change those processes,” Dail said. “My charter [from DoD leaders] was to get out and use this capability to start providing DLA capabilities to the warfighting commands in Afghanistan and Iraq. We had to get some people forward and see if we could link our supply to the warfighters’ demand.”

Dail said getting DLA support to those locations required a cultural shift within a workforce that was accustomed to providing support from the agency’s supply centers.

“It was a challenge for people who were used to being at supply centers in the United States to understand that the critical information we had to capture was out at those locations,” he said. “That system is not going to provide solutions if we only operate from Philadelphia, Richmond and Columbus. We needed to operate where the customers were. The critical information was there.”

To assist with getting his message out, Dail introduced a slogan, “Linking Supply and Demand; Extending the Enterprise,” and took his message to the workforce.

“I remember holding town hall meetings and advocating to the workforce how important it was to get skilled and qualified DLA people out into these theaters of operation, serving alongside our warfighters in places like Baghdad, Balad and Kabul, where we could connect our workforce, enabled by EBS, and DLA to better support the warfighters.”

Teams led by senior officers and civilians were put together in joint deployment and distribution operations centers, single points of contact for DLA customers in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility and elsewhere. This helped shift customers’ perspectives, said Dail, who was a customer himself as a battalion and brigade commander and the agency’s partner during his time as commander of the 3rd Corps Support Command and on combatant command staffs including USTRANSCOM and U.S. Atlantic Command.

While the challenges of changing DLA’s global footprint and culture were big, Dail points to the implementation of 2005 Base Realignment and Closure recommendations as the agency’s other biggest challenge and accomplishment during his tenure as director. Legislative directive transferred supply, storage and distribution functions from the military services to DLA, and Dail said “no one wanted to change.”

“When I arrived, we had not been able to move forward,” he said. “When I came in, several of the services’ key logistics leaders changed, and I was able to build some consensus.”

The Air Force volunteered to be first in transferring those functions, which Dail said encouraged the other services. DLA started with Warner Robbins Air Force Base, Georgia, where then-Air Force Brig. Gen. Andy Busch was the wing commander. Busch came to command Defense Supply Center Richmond, Virginia, now known as DLA Aviation. Dail said bringing the future DLA director to the agency helped reassure staff members at Warner Robbins.

“Busch came to command the supply center at Richmond that would oversee BRAC implementation. That allowed people at Warner Robbins to have confidence that their equities would be addressed. That helped us customize a solution that met the Air Force’s needs.”

BRAC implementation brought further culture change to DLA, Dail said.

“The change mandated that DLA change its culture. We were no longer managing wholesale, national-level inventory. We were managing retail inventory that had to be treated that way. It had to be responsive and filled at the rate expected,” he said. “DLA learned a lot in the process. It helped change DLA’s mission from the national level all the way down to where demand occurred. That was exactly where DLA needed to be.”

Two specific missions came early in Dail’s tenure: the rapid fielding of Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles and the “surge” of more than 30,000 troops into Iraq in early 2007. He called the two the most important missions he had at DLA.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates made the fielding of MRAPs – designed to protect troops in Iraq and Afghanistan from the deadly roadside bombs favored by insurgents – the department’s top priority.

“The MRAP family of vehicles was fielded very rapidly. DLA was part of that; we were at the cutting edge of the process. It was not a normal procurement. I think we provided great support to that program, which delivered enormous protection to our troops on the ground.”

The efforts to support the 2007 surge of troops consisted mostly of making sure the agency’s vendor contracts were written to handle the added numbers of vehicles to fuel and mouths to feed, Dail said.

“Everything from long-term contracts for fuel to subsistence to medical supplies,” he said. “You had to establish reutilization and marketing services sites. It was a big period of time. I visited several times during that period to make sure our warfighting customers were getting everything they needed, including new locations they wanted to establish.”

Demand for the construction and barrier equipment needed for those new locations “went through the ceiling, Dail said. Those lessons were important for DLA Troop Support when it supported a similar surge in Afghanistan three years later.

Dail credits the agency’s successes during his time as director to the people he worked with, pointing to DLA’s partners at DoD, the combatant commands and the services; the agency’s senior military and civilian leaders; and the workforce at large. He pointed to promoting civilians like DLA Finance Director Tony Poleo and DLA Finance Deputy Director Simone Reba to the Senior Executive Service as highlights of his time at the agency.

“I affectionately referred to [the SESes] as Murderer’s Row. They sat together at all the ceremonies. Their expertise, competence and dedicated service inspires me. I learned far more from them than they learned from me.”

Dail said that if an incoming DLA director asked, he would have two pieces of advice.

“Focus on the warfighters, the customers and meeting the demand,” he said. “Once you’ve clearly presented that focus to the agency, constantly communicate the importance of meeting that demand. The professionals in DLA will link its capabilities to the warfighters’ demand.

“Secondly, I would tell a new director to speak to and appreciate the professional workforce,” he continued. “Don’t fall prey to thinking DLA is about systems, processes and technology; it is about people. They bring a skill and competence to provide solutions. Talk to the people and learn from them. The workforce will never let you down.”

Note: This is the fourth of five features on former DLA team members being inducted into the agency’s Hall of Fame in a July 14 ceremony.